Jazz vs. Nuggets preview: Regional rivals on the national stage

Former CU Buff Alec Burks returns to Colorado to take on the Nuggets tonight. - Russ Isabella-US PRESSWIRE

Looking across the Rocky Mountains at Salt Lake City, the Nuggets see a team somewhat similar to themselves: young, big, deep and 2-3 to start the new season.

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2012/2013 NBA Regular Season: Game 6
vs
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2-3

2-3
November 9h, 2012, 8:30 PM (MT)
Pepsi Center - Denver, Colorado
TV ESPN / 950 AM / 104.3 FM The Fan
Probable Starters
Mo Williams
PG Ty Lawson
Gordon Hayward
SG Andre Iguodala
Marvin Williams
SF Danilo Gallinari
Paul Millsap
PF Kenneth Faried
Al Jefferson C Kosta Koufos
Notes
SLC Dunk Blogs You're here!
Raja Bell (out), Earl Watson (out) Injuries Wilson Chandler (day-to-day), Julyan Stone (out)
Jazz are looking for first road win. Stat Nuggets trying to get even at 3-3.

The Jazz seem to be an often overlooked team. Whether it's that they play in the NBA's smallest market (yes, smaller than Oklahoma City and New Orleans), have no recognizable stars, or both, the Jazz seem to fly under the radar. And yet they finished just two games back of the Nuggets last season and after five games this season they're in the same place as our Nuggets with two wins against three losses.

I don't foresee the Jazz overtaking the Nuggets anytime soon - they're deep but not as talented as Denver at most positions and they don't have a coach with the gravitas that George Karl brings to the table - but they'll never be an easy out. Just ask the Lakers who lost at Utah 95-86 on Wednesday night ... and it wasn't that close.

Last season, the Jazz beat the Nuggets in two of their three match ups, including one victory at Pepsi Center. And entering tonight's game, both teams will be on two days of rest and both teams are relatively healthy, so it should be a fair fight.

The Nuggets, meanwhile, seem to have finally gotten their shit together. After a much needed blowout against the lowly Pistons in their Tuesday home opener, the Nuggets pulled off a solid road win at Houston on Wednesday, highlighted by solid guard play from Ty Lawson and Andre Iguodala and a monstrous effort from "The Manimal", Kenneth Faried. Against an undersized team like Houston, the Nuggets didn't need much from their centers. But against the Jazz tonight, they will - both Kosta Koufos and JaVale McGee will have to make their presence known going head-to-head with the likes of Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap. No easy task for any NBA opponent.

Complicating matters somewhat is tonight's start time - listed at 8:30pm but we all now that means 8:45pm or even 8:50pm - thanks to the game being nationally televised on ESPN. That start time also translates into long commercial breaks and a lethargic crowd. But such is life when you're a featured NBA team as the Nuggets are these days and the Nuggets must persevere through it.

Three things to look for in tonight's game ...

1) JaVale McGee's rebounding - I'm not ready to write my "JaVale McGee is lazy" column ... yet. I want to see a larger sample size from McGee, but I'm getting close. Despite receiving a handsome four-year, $44 million contract, McGee seems to be dogging it nightly. Yes he's good for a huge dunk and an exciting blocked shot here and there, but he doesn't box out on the boards (hence why the seven-footer routinely gets less than 6 rebounds per game) and seems to be dogging it up and down the court like he's exhausted after just a few minutes. McGee will have his work cut out for him against Jefferson and Millsap tonight and we'll get a good indication of McGee's improvement - or lack thereof - against those veterans.

2) Randy Foye vs. Andre Miller - the Jazz stole Foye in the off-season and he's already delivering as one of the NBA's best backup point guards. Randy Foye, meet Andre Miller, arguably the NBA's best backup point guard. Say what you want about the aging Miller, but other than him playing too many minutes he's producing just fine at age 36.

3) The Jazz's young guns - Neither Gordon Hayward, Enes Kanter, Alec Burks nor Derrick Favors have played more than two NBA seasons, so it will be fun to see how these guys respond to playing on national TV in a big, tough road game at Denver. To date, three of the four (Kanter, Burks and Favors) haven't lived up to their promise as early first round picks.

Scouting the Jazz ...

Jazz Non-Stiffs

-Al Jefferson: The real "Big Al" is off to a sub-par start but is still good for 20 points and 10 rebounds on any given night. He fills up the box score with a few steals and blocks, too, and is a load to deal with on the low post. Have fun with him, Kosta Koufos.

-Mo Williams: Returning to the city where his NBA career began, this former All-Star is having his best start ever and if he keeps it up, could be back in the All-Star Game in February.

-Randy Foye: The aforementioned Foye is delivering over 13 ppg off the bench and could be building a case as the NBA's best sixth man if the Jazz win a lot of games this season.

Final Thought ...

When talking about the Nuggets entering the "upper four" of the Western Conference, the national NBA pundits seemed to forget about the Jazz altogether. And yet the Jazz returned a team this season that added Mo Williams, Marvin Williams and Randy Foye to a young squad that made the playoffs last season and were as close as you get in the Nuggets' rear view mirror.

These inter-division games mean a lot and I hope the Nuggets are taking the Jazz as seriously as this fan is.

***

Denver Nuggets Tickets: Grab some cheap seats and get to Pepsi Center tonight!

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